Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 1

Family Visit!

There is nothing better than seeing loved ones after you haven't for a really long time. The feeling that bubbles up inside you as you anticipate their arrival. The ecstatic joy you feel once you finally get to be in their presence again. This is just some of what I felt when my family stepped off the plane and began their African Adventure here in Botswana. 

One of the toughest things about coming to Botswana was leaving all my family and friends for such a long time. Peace Corps Volunteer service has periods of loneliness and homesickness. It's just a reality of living in a foreign country by yourself. There have been times I have felt more alone and homesick than I ever have in my life. Being able to have people who knows, loves, and understands you come and spend some time with you is a gift of so much relief, joy, and happiness. It had been over a year since I had seen my family and I was about to embark on 2 weeks of traveling in and around Botswana with my entire intermediate family. Something that is a rarity now that us kids are older. I couldn't have been any happier! I am pretty sure the people around me thought I was crazy as I had to suppress my excitement and tears waiting for them to come through the gate.

It was great to be able to show them around the country and show them a little bit of what I experience here in Botswana. They got  to see my village, meet all the people I work along side, try some of the foods I eat, and see how I live day to day. This was awesome because now I have family members who have experienced a little bit of what I have over my time of service and this will breed an understanding that no words or pictures could ever do.

After spending a few days in my village, we headed out to experience all the wonderful things the country of Botswana has to offer. We spent a lot of time in the car driving all over the country but it was worth it. Guess all those family roads trips we had growing up really paid off cause being in a car with my whole family for long hours at a time was no big deal. It was good to joke and laugh and just be around the family. We got to see everything from animals on safaris and boat cruises, to the Salt Pans in Nata, to Victoria Falls, to petting cheetahs. It was a great trip and something I will always cherish and remember.

If you want to hear more about the details of our trip you can check out my post here.

Thanks for following along and I hope you enjoyed the countdown! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 2

Shark Cage Diving!

When I decided to go to Cape Town, South Africa with a group of other volunteers over New Years Eve there was one thing I wanted to do more than anything else on my to do list, and that was going shark cage diving!

I had planned on going with two other volunteers. We were booked and the night before I had trouble sleeping because I was soo excited! I got up and met the other two girls while we waited on our ride. The van pulled up, but there was a problem….my two friends' booking was messed up somehow and they weren't on the list to go! I was really sad and didn't know what to do! Eventually after some calls it was determined that they weren't going to be able to go. I crawled into the van full of strangers and off we drove. This was the first time I was going to do something  thrilling and adventurous completely by myself (well I mean I did join the Peace Corps and moved to Botswana for two years, but that's a little different). Now don't get me wrong. I love doing awesome/crazy things but I've always had a friend or family member right there with me. This time that wasn't going to happen. I was still really excited but not having someone to experience it with made me more nervous.

The trip to Gansbaii from Cape Town was a beautiful 2 hour drive through the mountains and wine country. There were two groups from Italy and another couple from Sweden in my van. At least they all spoke English. Being my out going self I quickly made friends with them. 

Once at the place we were given some breakfast and then briefed on the cage and what was going to happen when we got out on the boat. It was finally time to get on the boat! The boat ride was pretty rocky out to the cage. I had stayed on the lower deck and got a little motion sick but the views were gorgeous!

Once at the cage we all suited up while they chummed the water to attract the sharks. After a few minutes some sharks started to come and it was time for some people to get in the cage. I was part of the first 5 to go. The water wasn't too cold, which was good. We waiting a little bit and then next thing I know I hear "Divers DOWN!!!".  This meant a shark was nearby and I needed to dunk myself deep into the cage to see it. The adrenaline rush was ridiculous! I shoved myself down as fast as I could and there he was! A huge great white shark swimming right by the cage. I popped back up and it was time to wait for another one. We got to be in the cage for 3 more sharks to come by and then we had to get out to let some other people have a look.

Once back in the boat I decided to go up to the top deck to watch the sharks. The view from the top was great because you could actually see the whole shark in the murky green-blue water! Man were they big!! (the sharks were about 3 meters long) I watched and tried to get some good pictures as the sharks came up to the cage or tried to get the bait. A few times they jumped out of the water and one time "Nemo" (as the guides called her because she had a damaged fin, which made her more aggressive) jumped out of the water and hit the corner of the cage with her tail. Wish I had been the guy in the cage then.

After everyone went it was time for me to go again. This time I had the positioning down so I was able to actually see the sharks better when I pushed myself down into the cage. At one point  a shark jumped out of the water with mouth wide open, teeth baring at the cage. That was pretty sweet. He/she was after the bait line which was being pulled back towards the boat and up over the cage. I wish I had gotten a picture of that!

After everyone went twice we all got out of our wet suits and headed back to shore. I made sure this time to sit up on the top deck, which helped tremendously and didn't get sea sick. Once back at shore we got some lunch and got to watch the highlight video. I talked to our guide a little bit. He had some great stories from doing this for 7 years. Pretty cool job, I would have to say. Then it was time to head back to Cape Town. I ended up sleeping most of the way back. Guess being out on a boat in a high adrenaline situation wears you out. 

Check back in tomorrow for the number 1 moment of 2011!! And if you haven't already check out numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 3

Chasing the Botswana Mini Kangaroo!

Went my family came to visit me we went and visited my friends who live out on the Tuli Block. They took us out on a night drive to chase after the "Botswana Mini Kangaroo". It was one of the best times I have had here in Botswana. We drove all over the bush that night chasing down this small critter. I was on spotlight duty and the boys would hop out of the ranger to run through the bush to try to catch it. I don’t think I have laughed more in my life those few hours. You can check out the full story here. I hope I get to do this again sometime before I leave Botswana.

Check in tomorrow for moment number 2 and if you haven't already be sure to check out numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 4

Walking with Lions!

Lions are majestic and impressive creatures in and of themselves. I've seen lions at the zoo multiple times but that's nothing like seeing them in the wild. When my family was here to visit we went on a 3 day safari through the some of the main game reserves here in Botswana and at the Moremi Game Reserve we stumbled upon 3 lions (2 male and one female). It was awesome and frightening to watch them as they lay in the shade and moved around the safari vehicle. Even though seeing the lions on safari is great, getting to go on an hour walk with 18 month old lions is an even greater feeling!

When I was up in Zambia I did just this. In Zambia there is an organization that rehabs and rehabilitates lions when they are young and then releases them back into the wild. They work through the organizations called ALERT. To find out more about them you can go here. Part of the process of rehabbing and rehabilitating the lion cubs is allowing them to have human contact. This is why I got the opportunity to walk with two 18 month old male lions.

The experience was great. The lions were pretty sleepy but I got to pet both of them twice and even had one walk beside me for a portion of the walk. It was a really cool experience, but a little scary at times. They are wild animals so there was the risk the lion could have decided I was something to play with.  The whole time of the walk, we had guides and other volunteers who work closely with the lions, so it was very safe. I also had to carry a stick with me, just in case. Throughout the walk the guides told us a lot of info about lions and at one point one them lions tried to climb a tree. I'm just glad my fellow volunteers' prediction of me being most likely to be eaten by a lion, didn't come true! Now I can say I petted and walked with two lions and survived. Pretty awesome!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for moment number 3 and if you haven't already you can check out moments 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top 11 Moments of 2011: Number 5

Quad Biking in the Dunes!

Words cannot even begin to describe the rush I felt driving a quad through the sand dunes in Namibia. It was so much fun! One moment I was looking at endless  breath-taking views of sand and dunes and the next I was gunning the bike to see how high I could drive it up the dune and then smoothly riding down the dune at high speeds! The dunes sit right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean so at times I would be in the dunes and then be viewing beautiful sights of the beach and waves! I felt like I was a player in the Mario Kart Game! It was awesome!

Namibia has some of the oldest and tallest sand dunes in world and quad biking them was an experience I would recommend to any and everyone!

Check back in for moment number 4 and if you have already make sure to check out moments number 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 6

My Girls

I guess this isn't really a moment, but these girls have grown near and dear to my heart this past year. The first time I met them was at my first running club meeting. They were shy. They laughed as they tried to perform the drills I had them do to build up their muscles. They wondered who this "lekgoa" (white person) was and how would she help them to run faster. They groaned when I made them do pushups and were typical Jr. High School girls. As the days went on they became more comfortable with me and began to complain at how tired they were, how hot it was, or how hard the workouts were. I thought them the importance of drinking water throughout the practice and other aspects of sprinting and running.  Eventually they became faster and showed improvement and the complaining stopped because they were beginning to find some love in the sport of running.

After Running Club practices they would follow me home, asking for water. I would give them some and then they would leave. As the weeks and soon months went by, I found they would come and visit me on the weekends. We would hang out paint our nails and do girly things. This is where the relationship began to form. Eventually Running Club came to an end but I found the girls were still showing up at my house. They told me their stories of home and challenges at school. I helped them with homework and we'd exchange dance moves. Some mornings they would show up wanting to exercise with me. Many an afternoon was spent giggling and having fun, but other afternoons were spent talking about serious topics and issues.

I hope in the short amount of time I have had with them I have been a good role model and someone to look up to. I hope they took something from some of the many conversations we've had about goals, their future, exercise, school, sex, and boys. I hope I have impacted their lives in a positive way. I will miss these girls when I leave to head back to the states in June. 

Make sure to check in tomorrow for moment number 5 and if you haven't already done it, check out numbers 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 7

Playing with Meerkats!

picture by lance mcneill

 The variety of animals in Botswana is one of my favorite things about this country. I got the opportunity to go on a game drive that takes you to a plain area above the Salt Pans in northern Botswana. This is where we got to see Meerkats (think Timon from The Lion King)!! 

picture by lance mcneill

Meerkats live in "clans" and their clan can be up to 50 members! There is usually an alpha pair and most of the rest of the clan members are offspring of the pair. They are burrowing mammals and will often have a network of tunnels and burrows. They usually come up ground to find tasty bugs and scorpions to eat and play. Usually one or more meerkats will stand on their hind legs to keep watch for predators while the rest of the group plays and hunts. 

picture by e.j. riggs

The guides took us out in the field and we got to sit and watch the meerkats play and run all around us. They were soo cute! If you stay really still they will come up to you and might even climb on top of you! Because Meerkats are soo small they like to stand up on the highest point they can find to look out for predators. At one point while my friends and I were watching them, a meerkat climbed up to the top of my head!!  It was hard not to move as he was getting the best position in my hair.

The Meerkats were so fascinating and fun to watch. I could have sat there for hours and hours watching them. After about an hour we had to get going to see some other cool things on our game drive, but I will always remember my little buddy who decided to use my head as his observation deck!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Number 6 and if you haven't already seen moments 8, 9, 10 and 11 you should do that too! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top 11 Moments in 2011: Number 8

Meeting Michelle Obama

I have only met a handful of famous people in my life. Actually I can count the number on one hand. In 2011 I got to add one more to that list. Around 50 of us Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Botswana got to meet the first lady while she was visiting here in June.  When she came around and shook some of our hands and said "thank you for all you do for your country" it gave me such a feeling of pride and accomplishment. It was a surreal experience and one I will always remember. If you want to learn more about the experience you can check out my blog post here.

I'm in the middle second to the left of Mrs. Obama :)

Don't forget to check out number 11, 10, and 9 if you haven't already and check back in tomorrow for number 7!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top 11 Moments of 2011: Number 9

Trying New Foods

Over the year of 2011 I got the opportunity to try a variety of new foods. Here's a few of the different foods that are native to Botswana that I got to try:


the marula fruit
This is a fruit that grows on trees. They have a yellow skin when ripe with a white fleshy part inside. This fleshy part has a very tart taste to it but is rich in vitamin C.  Inside of that is the pit or stone. When that part dries out the expose their seeds. The seeds are really good and remind my of a softer walnut taste.  The locals like to make a home brew out of the marula fruit. I go to try this and it was pretty disgusting. They also make marula jam out of it and use the seed kernel to make a marula oil which is good for skin care. Marula fruit is also used to make a liquor called Amarula which is very nice.

the seeds
Amarula Liquor, pretty good!


a sliced open leraka
This is a weird lumpy green looking thing that once cooked tastes a lot like a squash. When cooked and eaten with milk it has the consistency of mashed potatoes and is pretty tasty. To hear more about more experience with the leraka you can go here.


moretwa berries

This is a small red berry that grows in the bush. It is very sweet and seedy. It's nice because I can buy a cup full for around P5 (about $0.60) in my village. It is a little bit juicy, but has a dry after taste. One lady in my clinic said they were grapes, but I don't think they are anything like grapes. When eating them I like to spit the seeds out at the chickens its a fun little game for a boring afternoon. 

the seeds

If you haven't seen moments 10 and 11 be sure to check them out and then check in tomorrow for moment number 8!